A wild, apex predator released into the local countryside after an 800-year absence. From my view, this radical campaign is driven, not from a concern for local residents, but from a dangerous desire to re-wild our populated wilderness.
You may not be aware, but merely 20 miles away in Kielder Forest there are plans to reintroduce the lynx, a wildcat right at the top of the food chain, into the UK. Local farmers and residents whom I have spoken to are horrified at the idea and the proposers of this reintroduction, the Lynx UK Trust, have in my opinion, not put forward a convincing case.
To put it simply, I oppose this move. The lynx itself is not an endangered species. In fact since 2008 it has sat in the category of ‘Least Concern’ on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. Therefore, from an environmental viewpoint, the case has yet to be made to me that this reintroduction is either desirable or necessary.
Equally, it is patently clear that if released into west Northumberland the lynx would kill farm animals and livestock, and possibly make a walk or a bike ride a little daunting for humans. Just this year, a lynx that escaped from Dartmoor Zoo went on to attack, and kill lambs before being recaptured.
I should make it clear that I am a lover of my domestic tabby cat, and I am a big supporter of rural tourism. But I am strongly against allowing wild predators to run amok and there is little evidence to support that the lynx would stay in Kielder Forest. For me this is a crucial point. Kielder is not Yellowstone National Park, Yosemite, or a part of the Siberian Taiga. Reintroduction on such a densely populated island as ours poses real risks, and concerns for local communities. We simply do not have the vast wilderness of some other countries where wild animal reintroduction has a far lower impact on people in the surrounding area.
I have decided to formally consult residents and workers in the Kielder area by asking them to complete a survey. It is extremely important to me as the local MP that constituents have their voices heard.
The survey asked those in the affected region whether or not they wished to see lynx let loose in Kielder Forest, and their reasons for why they feel this way. So far over 89 per cent I have received back have been against reintroduction.
The local opposition to this could not be more explicit. I met with the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) in late September and have spoken to many farmers. Not one I have spoken to is in favour of the introduction of the lynx.
The NFU and county councillor for Kielder and Bellingham, John Riddle, are strongly opposed.
The proposal, put forward by the Lynx UK Trust, argues that this will be good for eco-tourism. I disagree.
Rural tourism is a crucial sector of the Northumberland economy, making-up some 13 per cent of all jobs, and 11.8 per cent (£665m) of the whole county’s economy. Yet it seems that the reintroduction would put off visitors from travelling to the Kielder Forest region.
Constituents have already contacted me, prior to the surveys being distributed, to express their discomfort at the thought of their young children playing in the forest with lynx roaming free, and told me that they would regrettably but categorically avoid visiting the area in future.
This is especially bad news for local business such as the Kielder Castle Forest Park Centre and the number of farms in the area. Equally, it seems nonsensical to think of lynx as a pull for eco-tourism when the animals themselves are extremely reclusive, and difficult to find – hardly the ideal set of characteristics for nature spotting.
The final decision is to be taken by Natural England, and this will not be for some time. In the interim I wanted to get the views, and concerns of all my affected constituents. I am now eagerly awaiting replies to the survey I sent out, and will act in accordance with those concerns.
However, from the outset my reservations are substantial. All those that I have heard from so far are deeply concerned by this move, and I think on many accounts, quite rightly so.